The hot summer days can be deadly for Louisville’s homeless population. | Courtesy

The recent heat wave had us all moving more slowly and staying inside. But Louisville’s homeless have few options to avoid the potentially deadly temperatures that the city’s summers can bring.

Thankfully, there’s been a short break in the heat. But it’s only June, and temperatures are likely to climb again starting Monday. The Louisville Coalition for the Homeless is working with other agencies to help this vulnerable population stay safe and hydrated with its Operation White Flag program.

Natalie Harris, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, said Operation White Flag has been in effect eight days this summer. White Flag days happen when the heat index has reached 95 degrees or higher. All participating agencies open their doors, so people can remain inside, even if they don’t have a reserved bed.

Natalie Harris | Courtesy Coalition for the Homeless

Harris said that on White Flag days, the Coalition’s Single Point of Entry team helps people get into homeless shelters during the day, even if there are no beds.

They won’t necessarily have a bed, but they can come in where it’s air-conditioned,” she said. “They may be on a mat on the floor or cot, but at least they’re not outside in the heat and they get a meal, plenty of water and the opportunity to take a shower.”

According to the Housing and Urban Development 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, homelessness increased by 9 percent in 2017, the first increase seven years.

An article published by Slate.com suggested that climate change and the urban heat island effect in U.S. cities (including Louisville) would likely cause a heavier burden on the homeless in the coming years. Studies by University of South Florida and the University of Toronto showed that homeless populations were disproportionately vulnerable to the heat, according to Slate.

In Louisville, there also are teams of volunteers who go out into the city and check on homeless people to make sure they are OK and have water, Harris said. And while some businesses may not like the homeless hanging out in their stores, there are many who keep an eye out for people they know and check on, she said.

The Louisville Free Public Library is an excellent resource, Harris said. It hosts a weekly Coffee and Connections program in which the homeless can come by and learn about services in the community.

“They tend to look out for people who were there, so they know those people are safe,” Harris said.

Another challenge, she added, is that the Coalition has far overspent its budget for Operation White Flag this year.

When the Coalition sends a homeless person to a shelter on a White Flag day, it pays that shelter $5 per person per night. Since October, there have been 113 White Flag days in Louisville, including 23 in January alone. Because of this, the Coalition has used up all the White Flag funds allocated by the city. As a result, the Coalition is asking for donations to help offset the cost with its Five Bucks a Month Club.

Helping the homeless

The Coalition for the Homeless provided a list of ways to help the homeless in Louisville.

  1. Volunteer to join a local group like The Forgotten Louisville or Fed With Faith to help distribute food and other items to the homeless. They particularly need help during the summer with bottled water and sunblock.
  2. Volunteer with Dare to Care’s Summer Meals for Kids program, which provides breakfast, lunch and dinner for children across our community during the summer months.
  3. Join the Coalition for the Homeless’ “Five Bucks A Month Club,” which helps fund Operation White Flag, “to get one person off the streets and into a shelter for one night each month during hot weather.”
  4. Volunteer your time or plan a compassionate team building experience by contacting Metro United Way at 502-583-2821, or RAK (Random Acts of Kindness), to find out what volunteer opportunities are available around the city.
  5. Advocate for more affordable housing through more community investment in the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
  6. The Center for Women and Families accepts donations of used cell phones, so that their clients always have a way to make a call in an unsafe situation. They can be dropped off at any of their locations. For more information call (502) 581-7200.
  7. Help by joining the conversation on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and educating your networks on homelessness in our community. Use the hashtag #TakeAStandLou to join the Coalition’s conversation about how you’ll take a stand for the homeless during the hot summer months.
  8. Make a difference in the life of a disconnected young adult by joining the Web of Support. Meetings are held at YMCA Safe Place Services on the fourth Thursday evening of each month. For more information, contact Corbin Hannah at [email protected].
  9. Host a homeless young adult for a short period of time while they work with a case manager on a permanent housing solution. For more information, contact Liza Smith at [email protected].

Lisa Hornung a native of Louisville and has worked in local media for more than 15 years as a writer and editor. Before that she worked as a writer, editor and photographer for community newspapers in Kansas, Ohio and Kentucky. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Georgia, and after a 20-year career in journalism, she obtained a master’s degree in history from Eastern Kentucky University in 2016.